I have written a lot about politics over the years. I also spend a lot of time researching everything I write because I want what I put out there to have substance and provoke thought. Combine that with my experience in the political field and plenty of formal education and it is fair to say that philosophy is an area I know a great deal about. I do not claim to be the world’s leading expert, certainly; but I am quite comfortable expounding on this topic at a fairly high level.
But none of that mattered yesterday. I got one of those phone calls that everyone dreads—a phone call that stopped me in my tracks and made everything else fade away. I had been worrying about various things in life, to include an article I had written about Nazis, Socialists, and our society in relation to those concepts. I was thinking about how to convey what was in my head and how we can make sense out of all the political rabble going on in America right now. All of that came to a screeching halt with a single phone call. When those you care about the most reach out to you with the worst possible news, life takes on new meaning. The yelling and screaming on social media becomes something else. It is suddenly just…
I scrolled through Facebook last night and noted that just about every other post was about Nazis, fascism, the “alt-right,” free speech, restricted speech, or something else related to the incidences in Charlottesville. Everyone has something to say and it is all important, no doubt. I had something to say yesterday, but it just seems so banal now. A logical argument about why socialism is given a pass while everyone loses their mind about fascism feels like more of that same noise.
All of it appears incredibly insignificant next to hugging my bigger kids who are saddened about a loss and squeezing my little ones who are too blissfully unaware to know what loss is. The political rabble gets dulled to background static when you give sad news to your kids. They do not care about who is a fascist and who is not. They care about people. They care about the individual members of a family who are hurting. It is here that we can learn a profound lesson, to be sure.
As I read through my news feed this morning, I am struck by one thing above all else—that a great deal of the commentary centers on categorizing people into groups. It labels certain groups as a way to separate them from everyone else. This is easy to do, no doubt. And it makes it easier for us in how we think about big problems.
When we see people as “groups”—especially as homogenous ones—it gets easier and easier to demonize, denigrate, and segregate. When we view collections of people as one thing rather than seeing each individual for their humanity, we have a much easier time putting everything in life into a neat, orderly category. Fascists go over there and good people go here. Racists go over there and the rest of us go here. Everyone who voted for that person is in that category and I am in this one. And so on.
But in the face of personal loss, none of that makes sense because suddenly we are reminded of the frailty of humanity. We are faced with our fear about something that is inherently true for our reality—our own mortality. When we confront that directly, categories do not matter. When we talk to our children about the survivability rate of everyone, given a long enough timeline, the insignificance of looking at people as groups becomes more than slightly profound. Telling a child about a lost loved one does not involve describing the demographic they were part of, especially when that loved one was very young. The thought that they were part of this group or that one never enters our minds.
Each one of us is an individual making individual choices. Part of this larger group we call the human race, to be sure; but we are still individuals. It is a failing of each one of us when we forget this as a society. Everyone quickly points the finger at “the other” for doing this, but we all do. Fascists, socialists, gun owners, people of color, homosexuals, straight-white-Christian-males, atheists, Midwestern moms who bake casseroles, homeless people, hippies, Wall Street executives, the 1%, and many others are all seen as homogenous groups by those outside of them—which is to say all of us when we do not associate ourselves with one of those groups.
But they are all human beings. They are all learning to deal with this reality and pushing down that fear of mortality—it is just that we all have different ways of letting it manifest. We stop seeing people for who and what they truly are the second we see them only as a part of a group. The moment we categorize someone as being a _____ (insert one or more of the above-mentioned groups), their humanity is less worthy. We all suffer when that happens. Yet human life does have intrinsic worth. This is something we intuitively know, but easily forget because of all the noise. The political world is filled with reasons to get angry about things “out there,” but those ultimately distract us from what is right in front of our faces.
None of this is to say that what goes on in the political realm does not matter at all. It certainly does. It is to offer some perspective by way of a personal realization. No legislative effort, no political figure, and no government agency is going to love your kids. No political action has the ability to alter ultimate reality. That ultimate reality is our humanity, and it should not take tragedy to remind us of that, though it often does.
I was reminded of that yesterday in a manner that forced me to slow down and appreciate what I have. It is my wish for you—and for all of us—that it does not take personal loss to do that.
In a time of hyper-specialization, Gregory is an accomplished and educated generalist who understands that knowledge from a multitude of disciplines is necessary for true wisdom. A continuous wanderer and seeker of knowledge, he has worn three different colors of beret for the US Army and worked in everything from metal fabrication, music, and bar tending to politics and publishing while on a constant search for life’s meaning.
This article first appeared in The Havok Journal on August 19, 2018.